There was a popular song in the 1940s called “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” It tells the story of a chaplain who is asked by a group of sailors under attack by enemy planes to say a prayer for them. The chaplain puts down his Bible, mans one of the ship's gun turrets and begins firing back at the enemy, intoning that phrase.
The song was based on the true story of a chaplain named Howell M. Forgy, who served aboard the USS New Orleans at Pearl Harbor. During the Japanese attack, Forgy helped organize a line passing ammunition to the ship’s gunners (because the hydraulics on the ship were out), and, as he saw the men tiring, he said, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” That simple line expresses the combination of faith and a fighting spirit.
My father taught me how to shoot a gun when I was a mere boy. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when he walked me out onto the great lawn at my grandfather’s farm upstate, with my little hand in one of his and a Winchester bolt action, single shot .22 rifle in the other. He taught me how to hold the rifle (actually, with him supporting it, because it was too heavy for me to hold by myself at the time), how to load, aim and fire.
But more importantly, in addition to teaching me what to do with a firearm, he also taught me what not to do with one — i.e., point it at anything I did not intend to destroy.
I grew up with guns, I appreciated them, and I respected them. Shooting was a pastime my father and I engaged in many times over the years, up until he moved to Florida late in life. It never occurred to me on that hot, buggy summer day of my youth or during the many range days with Dad over the years that knowing how to handle and shoot a gun might go beyond just the fun of spending time with my father doing something we enjoyed together; that it would also become a valuable, necessary life-skill.
• • •
I cannot begin to count the number of people, my fellow Jews, who have approached me since the Simchat Torah Massacre of Oct. 7 about purchasing a firearm. “How can I get a gun?” “Where do I get one?” “What gun should I get?”
People who have never owned a gun, perhaps have never held or fired one, are flocking to the notion that, as Jews have once again become the victims of mass murder in a brutal pogrom, and thousands of people march through the streets of cities throughout the United States and around the world chanting for further targeting of Jews and the undoing of Israel as our nation-state, they are left with no alternative but to arm themselves for their own and others’ safety and preservation. That we have been forced to this point is the world’s shame and our reality.
Now, “get yourself a gun” is not my knee-jerk reaction. Thankfully, we have the right in this country to “keep and bear” arms for our own and collective defense. But with that right comes significant responsibility.
I always ask people who approach me with these questions what they want a gun for (home defense, carry purposes), how they intend to store it (when they are not in need of it, in a safe — the only way as far as I’m concerned) and how much time and money they are willing to commit to training – and training their loved ones — with whatever firearm they purchase. If their answers are unsatisfactory, I generally tell them to get a big dog.
But that having been said, the current threats, while disheartening, have not been wholly unexpected. Antisemitism, out of fashion (at least publicly) in the immediate wake of the Holocaust, has been steadily rising for several years as the fashion comes back (often in the updated but thinly veiled garb of anti-Zionism).
That its ugly face has reared itself so prominently in living memory of the Holocaust says a lot about how ingrained it is. As a result, we as a community are not caught flat-footed or wholly unprepared.
• • •
Security teams have been up and running at many synagogues for some time, and there are many members of the tribe who are certified firearms instructors who can help people make the right choice as to whether to buy a firearm, what the right choice for a particular person might be, and how to train to use it safely and effectively.
If you are considering buying a firearm, or have one but have not trained sufficiently in its use, seek them out. Ask the questions. Get the right answers. A lazy gun owner is a dangerous gun owner — dangerous to himself and others.
And — and this is a biggie — know the laws where you live. In many states, firearms can be carried without a license in most locations. In others (New York among them), a license is required to carry a concealed firearm and the list of restricted places where it is a felony to be armed is so long that many people refer to the New York concealed carry license as a “dog walking license.” And the laws regarding when and how you are allowed to use a firearm vary from state to state. Making a mistake in these regards will possibly land you in prison and almost certainly involve lots of lawyer’s fees.
I completely understand the fear and concern that is driving a lot of our people to seek out a higher level of self-defense. But I implore anyone considering getting a firearm to think seriously about what is involved in owning and using one. If you go that way, go full bore: be safe, be trained, be ready.
I pray that none of us will have to employ firearms for anything more than the kind of recreation my father and I enjoyed. But I also live in this all too real world. In other words, I praise the Lord, but I also pass the ammunition.
Howard Bressler is a resident of West Hempstead. An attorney, he is author of “Wrong Conclusion, No Resolution: United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334’s Erroneous Conclusions on the Legality of Israeli Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem” and “The Layman’s Guide to Surviving Cancer: From Diagnosis Through Treatment and Beyond” (Langdon Street, 2014).
For more coverage, click the *Gaza War button at top left of Homepage.